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Genre Guide: Horror for Teens

The definition of horror is not as clean cut as some other genres.  In its simplest definition, horror is a genre that delivers the emotion of fear to a reader.  So… what scares you?  The answer to this question is different for everyone!

For the purpose of this genre guide for teens, I am working with the loose definition of horror in which the author set out to scare the teen reader.  This could occur through a monster, excessive gore, or the unknown.   Unlike other genres written for teens, horror allows authors to push the boundaries of content–violent deaths, disturbing creatures, gruesome gore, and even the evils of reality are all acceptable scare tactics in horror novels written for teens.  These horror novels can be set in any time period–past, present, or future.  They often involve a single teen protagonist or groups including teens overcoming great odds to survive the unsurvivable.

Authors to Know

Protagonists in horror for teens are often drawn into a dire situation or a mystery where it would appear that there would be no way for the protagonist(s) to survive, or at least survive unscathed. In teen novels, the protagonist is often a single person facing the horror.  If it is a group of protagonists facing horror, then you can usually expect at least one member of the group to be seriously hurt or even killed.   Protagonists usually survive the horror by realizing a strength that allows them to survive.   This strength can be a fantastical power, or it can be the recognition of inner strength and a strong will to survive. A common theme of horror is that the main character does survive, even though the reader may doubt this fact all the way until the end of the story.  Ultimately, the protagonist is stronger because of this survival.

Often times horror for teens does incorporate fantastical elements or creatures. In other instances, the horror may not be able to be explained (this is the “unseen” horror).  Additionally, a horror may seem fantastical, but it is actually based in reality or has a realistic explanation.  Often times, other genres are combined with horror to heighten the terror.  Any genre can be used, really, to be combined with horror to scare readers.  The most common are mystery, science fiction, and fantasy.

Horror appeals to teens for primarily one reason: they want to read something that will scare them! Reading horror novels is a safe way for a teen to experience terror and also to put themselves in the place of the protagonist and think, “what would I do?”  It also allows teen readers a safe way to explore the dark side of reality and fantasy, where they can confront their own fears.  It is definitely a way to escape the real world, and it is a genre that easily provokes an emotional response which most teens enjoy experiencing when reading horror novels.

Teen readers of horror can be a wide range, but generally teens that are horror fans know what kind of horror they like to read.  It can range from supernatural creatures, to the unknown horror, to more reality-based horror (mysteries or dramatic teen issues).

Horror for teens is a solid genre.  Lately, horror has been getting some good recognition thanks to authors whose works of horror have a high crossover appeal and good literary merit.  A trend that seems to be getting stronger in horror writing for teens is that authors are exploiting the horrors of reality.  They do this by tackling gritty teen issues in horrific ways– eating disorders, abuse, and destructive relationships are taken to a horrifying level to satisfy teen readers. Teens seek out horror most strongly in the fall as Halloween approaches, but a core collection is needed for those who enjoy reading horror all year long.  Recent movie adaptations, remakes of classic horror movies, and television shows are also driving teens to turn to read more horror novels of the like.


Reference Books

  • The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror, second edition by Becky Siegel Spratford (American Library Association, 2012).
  • Hooked on Horror III: A Guide to Reading Interests by Anthony J. Fonseca and June Michelle Pulliam (Genreflecting Advisory Series, 2009).

***Both titles are intended for use with adult readers, but are great resources for learning more about the horror genre in general.

Most publishers both large and small produce horror novels.


The Bram Stoker Awards, includes a Young Adult Novel award.

Teen novels and story collections have been considered for The Shirley Jackson Awards.

The Black Quill Awards also consider works for teens.

Recommended Titles

Seriously, this list could go on and on, so feel free to comment with some of your favorite horror reads!

– Colleen Seisser, currently reading The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

One Comment

  1. Thank you so much for mentioning our site! While horror fiction’s definition usually focuses mainly on fiction that includes the supernatural, at Monster Librarian we go with the broader definition you use here, of fiction that intends to scare teen readers. We have a couple of blogs that you didn’t link to that might be of interest. One of them, Reading Bites, is targeted to teens, and I write the other, Musings of the Monster Librarian, which covers a variety of topics and offers booklists and book suggestions for various age groups, including teens and children. We had a couple of great guest posts during Teen Read Week from David Simms, author of Dark Muse, and Jason Henderson, author of the Alex Van Helsing books. We’re also on Pinterest, and have a Facebook page that gathers the posts from our blogs together in one place. We’re always looking for volunteer reviewers, and have difficulty finding people interested in reviewing YA titles, so anyone interested in reviewing, please contact us!

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